In an effort to expand the availability of fresh, locally-grown produce and strengthen the competitiveness of the state’s specialty crop industry, the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) plans to distribute more than $711,000 over a three-year period thanks to funding allocated in the Specialty Crop Block Grant program in the federal Farm Bill. Applications for grant funding are available on the Illinois Department of Agriculture website and must be returned to the Department by close of business on Friday, April 26. To be eligible for funding, all projects must begin in calendar year 2020. In the first year, IDOA will distribute roughly $237,000, with a similar amount distributed for selected projects in 2021 and 2022. There are over 3,600 established specialty crop farms in Illinois which devote more than 85,000 acres of farmland and produce nearly $500 million in sales for Illinois farmers. To encourage further expansion of this industry, and to take full advantage of the allocated federal funds, the Department invites the development of projects pertaining to the following issues affecting the specialty crop industry. Projects that benefit a particular commercial product or provide a profit to a single organization, institution, or individual are ineligible. Farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community-sponsored agriculture programs should consider submitting proposals to the USDA’s Farmers’ Market and Local Food Promotion Program. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service defines specialty crops as “fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits and horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture).” Illinois is the nation’s leading producer of pumpkins and horseradish, while our state ranks in the top ten in acreage of cantaloupes, green peas, lima beans, and sweet corn. Request for proposal packets and additional information about the program can be found online at the Department’s website. Again, applications must be submitted to the Department no later than close of business on Friday, April 26.